TEAMtalk guest Richard Kitto feels the lack of any great expectations surrounding England could lead to a successful Euro 2012 campaign.
'Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.' Ralph Marston.
It has not been a great week for England has it? Seven days ago Frank Lampard was ruled out of the Euros due to a training ground injury, four days ago Gary Cahill suffered a similar fate in a friendly against Belguim, and on Wednesday Rio Ferdinand openly criticised Roy Hodgson for even denying him the opportunity to pick up a knock on duty.
But it wouldn't be a major international tournament without something threatening to derail the campaign before it started would it? It's as expected really. However, what is unusual about the lead-up is the lack of expectation on the team. Cries of 'England expects' and 'It's coming home' have turned to mutters of 'get out of the group and we're happy' and 'let's focus on World Cup 2014'.
Is it because supporters have given up the dream? That the media recognise the sheer burden they place on the shoulders of the players? That we're simply not as good as we were? Or just that the opposition is that much better?
Whatever the answer, it may well be that this lack of belief could lead to improved performance. And whilst I consider it refreshing that less is demanded of the squad and manager, it still doesn't mean that we can't enter the tournament in positive spirit. Many negatives has been said and written of England over the last seven days, largely due to the situation involving Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, but there is still plenty of reason to cheer, and who knows, perhaps even celebrate.
It seems much of the media are all of the same opinion. Spain to win it, Germany to push them close, the Netherlands to cause trouble, and England to come nowhere near. Simple. Of course this makes a lot of sense, and whilst it would be pointless of me to disagree with the notion of the first three being the major contenders, I don't think it's quite that cut and dry.
Take the Spanish for instance - undoubtedly they have great players, and come into the tournament as reigning champions, but a closer look at their team certainly shows imperfections. Their squad largely consists of Barca, Real, Atletico or Bilbao players - three of which have played in finals this season, and one which won a hard-fought La Liga. Fatigue is sure to play a part as they progress. Puyol, their inspirational leader and dogged centre-half, is out, and as such they are lacking major presence across defence. Similarly, without David Villa they are missing a leading striker, and may look to the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva to provide the goals.
Similarly, Germany have some real talent, but contain a core of Bayern players that may be physically and mentally drained after the disappointment in the Champions League. They're in a tough group, and unlike past campaigns there is real expectation on the team to succeed which could act as a burden for such a youthful squad.
Finally, whilst the Dutch have fantastic options in the front half of the field, a defence consisting of Heitinga, Boulahrouz and the unknown, untried 18-year-old Jetro Willems, will present opportunities and certainly will not strike fear into opponents.
Now of course England have faults, but I'd prefer to take a look at the positives instead. In Joe Hart they have one of the best goalkeepers in Europe if not the world; similarly Ashley Cole is a class act on the football field and very rarely has a bad game. At centre-half will be current Premier League and Champions League conquerors Joleon Lescott and Terry, and a midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will provide guile, grit, distribution, workrate and intelligence. The options of Ashley Young or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will add speed and trickery, whilst a likely pairing of Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck in the opening two games will offer different options based on circumstance, and upon his return, Wayne Rooney is a world-class striker.
It's likely that Hodgson will set the team up to be tight in defence and direct in attack. Whilst it's extremely doubtful that England will play the sort of football we're likely to see from Spain, Germany or Holland, that's not to say it won't be effective. I recognise the team do have weakness. They've looked shaky in recent friendlies, will miss Rooney hugely, and are in a tricky group - but not to the point that if they qualify out of the group stage it will be considered success. They're better equipped than that.
This article is not intended as one to get the bandwagon in motion again and the 'England Expects' banner out; but one to highlight that the team do have a realistic chance of achieving 'something' here, and there should be more optimism surrounding them. After all, who in their right mind thought Greece would win Euro 2004? And that Chelsea would be European champions? Thankfully the best teams do not always win the big tournaments; and if they did then football wouldn't be enjoyable. Here's hoping England make it exactly that.